Belarusian security forces detained dozens of protesters as crowds rallied in central Minsk accusing President Lukashenko of rigging last month's election.

A woman argues with a police officer during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, September 26, 2020.
A woman argues with a police officer during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, September 26, 2020. (AP)

Hundreds of women calling for the authoritarian president to step down have protested in Belarus’ capital, continuing the large demonstrations that have rocked the country since early August.

Police blocked off the centre of Minsk and arrested more than 80 demonstrators, according to the Viasna human rights organisation. Some of those arrested were chased down by police in building courtyards where they were trying to take refuge, Viasna said.

Protests, by far the largest and most persistent in Belarus since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, began August 9 after an election that officials said gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office.

Opponents and some poll workers say the results, in which Lukashenko was tallied with 80% support, were manipulated.

Despite wide-scale detentions of demonstrators and the arrest of many prominent opposition figures, the protests haven't shown signs of abating. Lukashenko further angered opponents this week by taking the oath of office for a new term in an unexpected ceremony.

READ MORE: Tens of thousands march against Lukashenko in Belarus, dozens detained

Protesters on Saturday carried placards denouncing him as “the secret president.”

Video on social media showed a masked officer ripping a red and white flag out of the hands of Nina Baginskaya, a 73-year-old activist who has become a central figure in the protests since scuffling with police last month.

In the footage, police drag her to a van. Local media said she was later released.

Protesters have used the red and white flag that Belarus adopted after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, before Lukashenko restored the Soviet version four years later.

Six journalists were detained at the rally on Saturday but promptly released, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

READ MORE: Belarus detains opposition leader's lawyer amid protests

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko's main election opponent who went into exile in Lithuania after the vote, praised the female demonstrators and derided the police in a statement.

“What about the men themselves, who, hiding their faces, use force against women? Is it possible to live peacefully with such men?” she said.

Tsikhanouskaya issued a statement on social media condemning the security forces' actions. "We all deserve that our dignity and civil rights be respected," she said. "We know this and that is why we cannot be stopped."

READ MORE: Belarus opposition rejects 'rigged' election results

Lukashenko dismisses accusations

Lukashenko, a former collective farm manager, has been in office since 1994. During that time he has repressed opposition and independent news media and kept most of the country's economy under Soviet-style state control.

READ MORE: Lukashenko turns to Putin as Belarus protesters clamour for his resignation

Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, has been rocked by street protests since authorities said Lukashenko won by a landslide.

He has denied rigging the August 9 election and dismisses opposition accusations of mass arrests and rights abuses as a Western smear campaign.

Lukashenko, a 66-year-old former collective farm manager, was sworn in for a sixth term on Wednesday in a ceremony held without warning, prompting thousands to take the streets of the capital. 

READ MORE: Belarus leader Lukashenko belittles protests as US plot

READ MORE: Belarus opposition leader flees to Moscow ahead of election

Source: AP